Signals – Foreign Smoke Signals – Sign Language

The following examples of smoke signals in foreign lands are added for comparison.

Miss Haigh, speaking of the Guanches of the Canary Islands at the time of the Spanish conquest, says: “When an enemy approached, they alarmed the country by raising a thick smoke or by whistling, which was repeated from one to another. This latter method is still in use among the people of Teneriffe, and may be heard at an almost incredible distance.” (Trans. Eth. Soc. Lond. vii, 1869, sec. ser., pp. 109, 110.)

“The natives have an easy method of telegraphing news to their distant friends. When Sir Thomas Mitchell was traveling through Eastern Australia he often saw columns of smoke ascending through the trees in the forests, and he soon learned that the natives used the smoke of fires for the purpose of making known his movements to their friends. Near Mount Frazer he observed a dense column of smoke, and subsequently other smokes arose, extending in a telegraphic line far to the south, along the base of the mountains, and thus communicating to the natives who might be upon his route homeward the tidings of his return.

“When Sir Thomas reached Portland Bay he noticed that when a whale appeared in the bay the natives were accustomed to send up a column of smoke, thus giving timely intimation to all the whalers. If the whale should be pursued by one boat’s crew only it might be taken; but if pursued by several, it would probably be run ashore and become food for the blacks.” (Smyth, loc. cit., vol. 1, pp. 152, 153, quoting Maj. T.L. Mitchell’s Eastern Australia, vol. ii, p. 241.)

Jardine, writing of the natives of Cape York, says that a “communication between the islanders and the natives of the mainland is frequent; and the rapid manner in which news is carried from tribe to tribe, to great distances, is astonishing. I was informed of the approach of Her Majesty’s Steamer Salamander, on her last visit, two days before her arrival here. Intelligence is conveyed by means of fires made to throw up smoke in different forms, and by messengers who perform long and rapid journeys.” (Smyth, loc. cit., vol. 1, p. 153, quoting from Overland Expedition, p. 85.)

Messengers in all parts of Australia appear to have used this mode of signaling. In Victoria, when traveling through the forests, they were accustomed to raise smoke by filling the hollow of a tree with green boughs and setting fire to the trunk at its base; and in this way, as they always selected an elevated position for the fire when they could, their movements were made known.

When engaged in hunting, when traveling on secret expeditions, when approaching an encampment, when threatened with danger, or when foes menaced their friends, the natives made signals by raising a smoke. And their fires were lighted in such a way as to give forth signals that would be understood by people of their own tribe and by friendly tribes. They exhibited great ability in managing their system of telegraphy; and in former times it was not seldom used to the injury of the white settlers, who at first had no idea that the thin column of smoke rising through the foliage of the adjacent bush, and raised perhaps by some feeble old woman, was an intimation to the warriors to advance and attack the Europeans. (R. Brough Smyth, F.L.S., F.G.S., The Aborigines of Victoria. Melbourne, 1878, vol. i, pp. 152, 153.)

Consult Further:

Sign Language Among North American Indians Compared with that Among Other Peoples and Deaf-Mutes. 1881

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